Cultural shock always interests me— assuming I’m not the one experiencing it xD
Experiencing the different mannerisms of faraway cultures can be bewildering, especially when one has no clue how to interpret or respond to what is obviously an extremely serious gesture. Ikoku Meiro comes as one of the only anime I’ve seen which shows this in full impact, as Yune’s perfectly postured Dogeza left Claude completely off balance and, in his case, utterly outraged. It’s not really surprising either— the Dogeza, or any form of prostrations that’s so deeply set into traditional Asian mannerisms, had always been misunderstood by westerners not accommodated to the culture.
Dogeza [Lit: kneeling down on the ground] isn’t a English word, and is usually translated as Kowtowing, which comes from the Chinese word Ketou [Lit: touching head upon a surface]. But one should first note that while the traditional purpose of these two gestures are very similar, their procedure and posture is slightly different: a proper Dogeza is a deep bow performed from the ‘proper position’ (Seiza), kneeling on the ground with both legs folded underneath. Meanwhile, Kowtowing does not require this, and allows the legs to be left in an acute or even right angles; thus it can be done directly from a standing position without coming to a kneeling sit first. The forehead is usually left just millimeters from the ground, although emphasis can be given by actually touching the ground (audibly so for ketou: ouch). The Dogeza’s strict posture has more formality, but carries essentially the same meaning: to either show deep respect and reverence, or to express absolute humility when apologizing or begging.
Dogeza certainly isn’t a slavery-ish mannerism, although it does historically carry the notion of being in a lower, if not servantile, position— peasants to nobles, ministers to emperors, but not the other way around (except under extremely grave circumstances). Claude’s reaction certainly could have been far worse: many westerners who first encountered kowtowing thought they were being worshiped, and most continue to see it as a sign of abject submission or grovelling. It’s not entirely untrue, as once in China, kowtowing before the emperor symbolized submission and fealty, thus becoming a significant issue in diplomacy and international ceremonies back then.
However, equating the Dogeza/Kowtow to submission without taking circumstances into account would be a grave mistake: it is simply meant to show wholehearted earnesty through the display of humility (prostration) and the gesture of deep respect (bowing). In apologizing and begging, it also equals to an acknowledgement of shame, in a “I’m very sorry to trouble you” way, and its profound significance and sincerity would often lead to forgiveness. But while we often see it in the form of apologizing and begging (such as Kyousuke to the directors in OreImo, or Kou’s many apologies in Arakawa), it is also used in formal, ceremonial greetings between equals or to higher-ups (e.g. a high-level interview). The exchange is what really sets the relationship— the fact that Claude did now bow in the slighest in return could be seen as implying that he considers himself far above Yune in position… not exactly polite.
So if one is ever on the receiving end of one… don’t just stand there in shock =P
Not that adorable little Yune minds such small matters~